Beginning July 1, 2019, residents and city workers will no longer be able to freely use synthetic pesticides in Maine’s largest city, except in a few limited cases.

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed an ordinance regulating pesticide use in Portland. Advocates say it’s one of strongest anti-pesticide ordinances in the country, with scofflaws facing potential fines ranging from $100 to $500.

City staff estimates that the ordinance could cost up to $700,000 to implement. Those costs would cover new employees, equipment and up to a $250,000 set-aside to replace the turf on athletic fields.

The ordinance calls for a robust campaign to educate the public about ways to improve their lawns without using toxic chemicals.

Avery Yale Kamila, co-founder of Portland Protectors, a grassroots group that has lobbied for a strict pesticide ordinance for about two years, applauded the new rules Thursday.

“I’m so proud of the Portland City Council for passing one of the strongest organic land care ordinances in the country,” Kamila said. “The council listened to the residents, organic experts and the independent science and decided to prioritize public health and environmental stewardship. I expect our new status as a leading organic city will make Portland even more attractive to young people and visitors.”

Councilors voted 9-0 to approve the ordinance after a one-hour workshop that was followed by lengthy debate on 10 proposed amendments to the pesticide law.

Only two amendments passed, one of which set the ordinance’s start date for July 1. The other added an exemption for invasive insects.

“It was a lot of work that took place over a lot of months, but I think the people of Portland should be very proud,” Mayor Ethan Strimling said Wednesday night.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau supported the ordinance, which is modeled after one in South Portland. It means that Portland will start using organic pesticides on all city-owned properties beginning this summer. The only exempt properties will be Hadlock Field, Riverside Golf Course and five high-use athletic fields that remain exempt until 2021.

“This is a really solid first step for the city of Portland,” Thibodeau said Wednesday.

Only three people spoke during a public comment session prior to the council’s vote. It was the second hearing before the council, and those who spoke previously were not allowed to offer opinions.

Fore Street resident Mary Ann Gordon said the ordinance is needed to protect the health and safety of children – even though she does not have any.

“Maybe we’re making a mistake by going this way, but we’ll never know unless we try,” Gordon said. “Let’s make Portland an organic city.”

Geoff Iacuessa, executive vice president and general manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, asked the council to keep an exemption for Hadlock Field, where the minor league baseball team plays its home games.

Iacuessa said the team replaced its turf in 2012 and tried to go organic, but had to abandon the effort because the field was difficult to maintain. The team still tries to use organic whenever possible, but sometimes synthetic pesticides are needed, he said.

“(Synthetic) is not our go-to option,” he said. “It’s usually just a spot treatment. It’s not necessarily for the whole field.”

Ethan Hipple, director of Portland’s public parks, also made the case for exempting city-owned playing fields. But those fields will fall under the new regulations beginning in 2021.

“At these fields – they’re so heavily used that grass literally can’t grow,” Hipple said. “Anything that is competing with the grass (i.e., weeds) is not going to let the grass grow.”

Kamila said Thursday she is still concerned that the city exempted its golf course, which is located in the Presumpscot River watershed. She is also concerned that high-use athletic fields will continue to be exempt until 2021. Exemptions for invasive insects are also a concern, she said.

“Portland Protectors will closely monitor the implementation of this ordinance,” Kamila said. “We also hope the council will come back later and restrict synthetic fertilizer use and restrict the sale of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.”

The ordinance creates an advisory committee that will be tasked with developing a campaign to educate the public and retailers about the land care practices that do not require pesticides and about organic alternatives.

The council turned away efforts to add an organic expert to the committee and to allow the city manager, rather than the committee, issue rulings on waiver requests.

Portland’s ordinance would ban the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private property in an effort to protect natural resources and public health.

Organic pesticides would be allowed, as would synthetic substances listed as “allowed” in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and other pesticides deemed to be “minimum risk” in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

It includes exemptions for “emergency situations and when an imminent threat to the health and welfare of the public exists.” Those include treatments for poison ivy, ticks and termites, among others.

Other exemptions exist for so-called heritage elm trees; public rights of way; invasive pests such as browntail moths; Hadlock Field; and golf courses that are designed through Audubon International as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Randy Billings can be contacted at:

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